The crickets hollered out to eachother as the light drew near. Run to the thistle bushes, run and hide, and be safe from the giant with the wide sweeping sun in his hand. Down the ravine the crickets sprung hither and thither. The occasional mouse scampered from thicket to rock to tree root.Even more scarce were the maraqets, the cat sized mice that built their shelters in the trees. Casper was greeted by the occasional glowing pair of eyes in the moonlight, suspended in the black branch of a wild oak. When Casper shined his light thereabouts they were gone.
Ray wasn't looking for anything particular. Not in the brush, not on the rocks or over the ridge of the ravine. He was Casper's support, he was the backup. He firmly believed in the pecking order despite being down the chain, and while he knew some day he'd love to be in Casper's position, he wasn't exactly trying so keenly to accumulate the brownie points tonight. He was tired. If Casper needed the support, he was there, otherwise he would carry on following aimlessly, wordlessly. Casper sifted his way down the ridge, he examined the bush in which Lenny crashed. It had completely caved as the wheel tore through, branches bending and snapping and scratched at Lenny's legs. Casper found a couple of drops of blood, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing excessive. Deeper into the bush was where the wheel crashed and blanketed the foliage flat. Sometimes if you get up quick it'll spring back up no harm done, but Lenny fell and lay flat for a moment. It was at the back of the bush where he lay with his warped wheel, through a little gap in the thistle bush. Casper stood in the bush for a while staring at the flat circle of the crash site, before glancing over towards the marshes. Then he crouched down to his knees. Fair enough, the hole was there, and he peered through it. From every which way imaginable, and nothing. No body.
Hey Ray! Casper hollered out. Ray cocked his head and came nearer.
Where are you, sir? Ray called back.
In the bush here. Come check this out for me.
Ray followed the wheel's path in to where Casper crouched staring at the marshes through the bush. Casper turned to look up at Ray.
Here, take a look at those marshlands over there for me. Tell me if you see anything.
Casper got to his feet and moved aside.
No, nothing, sir. Ray said, stifling a yawn.
No, you fool! Down here, through the hole in the thistles! You were at the interrogation.
Casper thumped Ray on his back and pushed him to his knees. Through the thistles the young officer scanned across the marshes. Nothing.
Those dirty liars! Those dirty filthy kids! Playing a dirty trick on us at this hour of the night!
Shut it, Raymond. We don't know anything for certain. For one, we are heading in towards the valley now, and those marshes, well... I'm sure you've heard some of the stories of what's gone on down there.
Ray shivered at the thought, then got to his feet and stepped out of the bush.
They walked down further, Casper still combing the area for clues, Ray still uselessly meandering along behind, albeit now with a keener sense of caution. As they approached the marshes there came a developed mutual understanding. They could see it, and smell it from some distance away, the shining dark patch in the soil a few metres from the foreboding mouth of the marsh-swamp. The tainted earth looked putrid in the moonlight, and the smell was far worse than ordinary death. Here, Casper got out his TK-300 and took a few pictographs of the soil. And then he snapped on some disposable gloves and turned the soil with his small pocket fork. And there he could have puked without hesitation had it not been for a moment's cloud cover. The first patch of freshly exposed earth was writhing with salt-worms and maggots, feasting on a meal pulled under. Before he realised the full horror of what he had witnessed, Casper was able to carry himself to the nearest bush.
Shine a light down, that's the only way we'll ever see. Ray said, curiosity driving him closer.
Casper stood back, trying to will himself to get a better look.
Shine a light down there. He said again.
They're witch grubs.
What? What are they, sir?
They ate the poor bastard. I- I just know they did.
White faced, Casper just stood back further, dreading the very thought of it.
No, sir. The area's too small for them to have... consumed all of him.
Well... Casper leaned in a little. I think you might be right. It just... it smells so...
Yes. Now shine the light down there so we can see it properly.
Casper obeyed, and then came closer, willing the smell from his mind. He knelt by the soaked earth again, light in hand and used his fork to upturn more of the earth. He began to prod deeper into the topsoil mix and down to the soft, soaked earth below, flicking aside the grubs as they crawled across his wrists. And then he touched on something solid. His fork would do no good, so he closed his eyes and plunged wrist deep into the moist soil and came up with the human skull. Ray asked the question he was thinking himself.
Where's the rest of the body?
Casper knelt there for some moments, pondering the question, skull in hand, before pointing towards the marshes. He was most certain of himself, but he knew that he would not find it with Raymond and his dingy little torch tonight. He slipped the skull into a clear plastic bag and tucked it under his arm, and with his sleeves rolled up his arms, he walked with Raymond back up along Mariam Ravine, back to their auto. They'd have to drop the skull off at the lab at the police station for testing in the morning, but maybe Casper could squeeze in a few hours sleep before then.
It was nearing noontime and Grissom had spent most of the morning in his observatory, hunched over his maps when Cornwall, his artificially competent assistant entered with a message.
The Detective Bernstein wants to speak to you, sir. He said in a drone. The vistograph chamber is prepared, sir.
Thank you, Cornwall.
Grissom left the observatory and followed Cornwall through his ornately decorated home to the vistograph chamber.
After you, sir.
Cornwall stepped aside, allowing Grissom to enter the small chamber. In the chamber was one seat and a light-tricked image of another. And in this other non-actual seat was Casper.
Casper, my good man! It's been too long since our last meeting.
Casper jumped in his chair, apparently startled.
Sit down, you old fool! Sit down so I can see you. Every time you do this, every time!
I am sorry, my friend. Every time I forget. I rarely use this chamber, it's more for the younger generation I think. I forget I'm not on the vistograph until I'm in the seat. Anyway, how are you?
Fine, fine, now listen, Grissom. Last night I got called out, down to the Mariam Ravine and to the marshes...
No. Tell me it's not true, Cas.
I'm afraid it is.
We were supposed to have three more months before season's end, three months of peace in the valley. Who was it this time?
His name was Grahame Thompson. We only found his skull by the edge of the marshes. Kit ID'd him this morning. As soon as I saw it, I knew what we were in for.
No. No, no, no, no, no. You'd better not be suggesting what I think you are.
We need to check it out. We need to set up an expedition.
Damnit, Bernstein! This just isn't right!
That's why we need to go. And I need you with me. Please.
What? No. No way compadre.
For old time's sake, please. You know there's no better scientist in Berwick, and you know I'll do all I can to make things worthwhile for you.
I know. Come on. You remember how the department's like with things like this, they'll bend over backwards for anyone willing to risk their own neck down in those parts. I wouldn't be asking if I didn't think you were up for it.
Grissom sighed with the tone of defeat.
Fine. I'll see you when?
Okay. Berwick airstrip?
No, West U, got some other matters to attend to beforehand. 8AM sharp, at the East entrance. I'll see you there.
Grissom got up from his chair, which now faced a blank wall and not the dimensional construction of his friend, the detective. Cornwall was still waiting by the door when he came out of the chamber.
Am I coming too? He asked.
You were listening?
The Berwick airport. It was the biggest this side of the globe. Planes go North, East, West all over the territory. They get the airships for the trips to the further reaches of the country, and for the occasional grand journeys over blue.
Timothy was in Hangar 82, over by the flight school strip towards the East edge of the airport. He was fixing up the Jericho-C33 when Beatrix entered the hangar. He was hanging over the motor, wrench in hand, smothering himself with the guts of the plane.
Are you done fixing my plane? Beatrix asked.
Just about, Bea. Should be running smooth now, just need to put it all back together.
Good, because the professor just got a call from the detective. Apparently he wants to talk to us.
But I haven't done nothing wrong. Tim said, somewhat indignantly.
No, I don't think it's anything like that. Relax, just finish up here and head out to hangar 53, we're going to meet up with him there. Don't keep him waiting, Tim.
Beatrix walked out, leaving Tim to his work, and headed off away from the flight school, over towards the commercial ships. Beatrix was a third year flight student, and in another year she'd be flying the large planes and airships and taking the occasional commercial flight to boost up some experience. Timothy, well he'd been on the airstrip a lot longer. He grew up the son of an engineer, about a quarter of the planes in the airstrip were designed by his father. And Timothy himself just grew up around the area, got into a mechanic apprenticeship in his mid-teens and has been pulling apart and putting back together the planes along the airstrip for near on a decade now.
Beatrix wandered along the airstrip lazily, knowing no real need to rush, as Timothy would still be a while longer putting the motor back together. The hangars were tall as ten elephants standing on eachother's backs and wide as a whale. They were large. It would be something else to describe how long the hangars were down the side. The numbers on the sides of the buildings, however, they stood tall as the stacked elephants, and each numeral was about the width of a standard house. Beatrix counted down from 82 as she walked. It would be a while, she figured, before she reached 53, but the hangars were on both sides of the airstrip, so the numbers went in deuces, like houses. She'd get there soon enough, on the other side of where she walked now. By that time she hoped the detective would have driven across town and caught a lift with the luggage tram by then.
As Beatrix passed the number 62 hangar, she heard a light rambling behind her. She turned around just in time to see Timothy come racing past her on... heaven knows what, some sort of motorised skates? Whatever they were, they were fast. It looked as if Timothy weren't in complete control. He wobbled, and veered out across the airstrip, and stacked. The wildly energetic brass boots still spun like mad, whizzing about in the air as poor showoff Timothy lay sprawled on the bitumen.
Are you okay? Beatrix called out, jogging over to him to see if he was alright.
His shirt was heavily torn and he wore bright pink grazes on his now exposed shoulder and the left side of his face, but he just grinned, wincing slightly.
Serves you right, for ponying around those things like that.
Timothy wrenched them off his feet and switched them off. He got to his feet and said;
Do you want a go?
Oh, um thanks, but no.
Come on, here; I'll turn the speed down on it for you. They won't, ahh, throw you face first into the bitumen or nothing.
I don't know, they could do. But I don't think so.
Well, ok, if you insist.
Timothy fitted the boots onto Beatrix's feet before switching them into low gear. She rolled ahead excitedly. Some wobbles, but after a moment she balanced out. Out across the airstrip, smooth as. Down alongside the hangars. And then she circled back around to Timothy.
Neat, huh? He called out as she zoomed past.
She headed back out along the hangars again, 59, 57, 55, slipping past effortlessly. 53 she just slipped through the doors and found a seat over my the side. She switched the gear back to neutral and pried them from her feet when the detective entered the hangar.
Quite an impressive toy you've got there, miss.
The name's Beatrix, sir. And these are my friend, Timothy's.
The mechanic boy?
Brilliant. My name's Casper, by the way.
It's nice to meet you. I've heard a thing or two about you.
Do you know why I'm here?
Thanks for waiting up, Bea. Timothy said with some annoyance.
Any time. So, detective, now that we're both here, what's this all about?
Can you fly that ship? He pointed towards the airship sitting in the hangar.
The Napoleon XI?I suppose so.
Good. And you, Timothy. Can you fix it?
Of course. What do you plan on doing with it?
We're going to fly it, of course. Out over the valley, to be precise, but there'll be time for details later. If you're up for it, I'd like you two to accompany me on my expedition.
You want me to fly it? Beatrix piped in.
Yes. And I'll need your friend, Timothy here to be with us should anything serious happen.
Like what? She asked, nervously.
Details, my fine lady, details! I'm not even close to prepared.
Casper made for the door before stalling, remembering something;
Oh, one more thing, I'll need you two down at West University, Tuesday at 8AM, sharp. And be prepared! Thank you.
Thank you, sir. Goodbye. Beatrix called to his back, not knowing whether or not he heard.